Trades Sampler sparks new electrical career

Leah Blok has found her career in trades because of NIC’s Women in Construction Trades program.

Leah Blok is starting a new electrical career, thanks to her experience in NIC’s Women in Construction Trades program.

Blok was looking for a career change after 16 years as a kayak guide. “I loved my job, but I was looking for a more balanced career that would let me live in BC year-round,” she said. “When I would talk to people about moving on from guiding, they would often suggest something like teaching, nursing or counselling. Nobody ever said, ‘Hey, have you thought about trades? You like working with your hands and doing physical things.’”

Losing her guiding work during the pandemic forced Blok to commit to her career search. In January 2020, she visited friends in Courtenay and discovered the opportunities at NIC. “One of my friends mentioned that NIC was doing this two-week sampler trades program for women. At each campus they showcased a different set of trades. My friend had signed up, and I said, ‘Well, I'm not doing anything for two weeks; maybe I'll do it with you,’” said Blok.

Cheryl O'Connell, dean, trades and technical programs has seen many women access the sampler programs to explore trades for the first time and find new career paths through these opportunities. "We're grateful to the Industry Training Authority (SkilledTradesBC) and all our funding partners for their support of these programs that encourage women to consider a career in the trades," said O’Connell.

In the program, Blok found herself surprised to enjoy all of the opportunities to try construction, welding, metal fabrication, electrical and plumbing. “At the time I had a list of six possible jobs to start working towards. Trades was not even on my radar,” Blok said. “I had no idea that I would enjoy it. So last January was the first time anybody has ever said to me, ‘Hey, you can actually do this, and here's some power tools.’ It was amazing!”

During the electrical portion, Blok started to feel the connection. “I noticed a few other people were struggling with things that seemed to come naturally to me,” said Blok. “The instructor was the first person ever in my life that told me that I could be an electrician. The entire program opened up my mind to so many opportunities that I never considered because I never even knew they were options.”

On completion, Blok immediately applied for the Electrical Foundation program, which provides Level 1 Technical Training credit and work-based training hours toward her apprenticeship.

“I like to work hard. I like to know what I’m doing. I like to learn things,” said Blok. “I thought if I took the Foundations program, I could go into my apprenticeship with something to offer to employers and at least know a little bit about what I’m doing.”

She also found new joys in training to be an electrician, such as bending metal conduit or tubing and she is more inspired than ever for her apprenticeship. “I don’t really know why I like it-- maybe because it makes me feel hardcore that I’m bending metal pipe. But it’s so fun and I really like it when it turns out well,” said Blok.

She hopes more people will explore their options in trades. “I would say to anybody-- woman or otherwise-- to try it. Ask questions and see if people in the industry will talk to you. I interviewed some other female electricians who had their Red Seal before even applying to the program, because I wanted their take on the industry and what it was like to work in it,” said Blok.

NIC has offered trades programs specifically for women six times since September 2019, which has helped more than 40 female students be introduced to trades as a career. Students are currently being recruited for the free two-week Women in Construction Trades program, starting March 21, 2022.

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